The advantages of having a provider soon revealed itself: there was another woman Penthesilea could talk to in private, someone who had an eye on Haimon while she was absent. Io was much better in cooking than him and the slave handed that task over to her gladly.
The young woman didn’t mind at all that she had to leave her home tribe. Instead, she kept telling joyously where she wanted to grow a few plants and took care of having everything in her hut a baby would need. Sometimes one could get the impression that the provider was more excited for the child than the mother herself but the queen enjoyed it.
At least one person in the world did make a fuss over her even though it was completely unnecessary.
Losing track of time when they spoke with each other, they sat together until late in a couple of nights.
Another joy she had those days was Haimon. With Io’s cheerfulness being around he perked up, maybe because he was allowed more time outside his basement room at that. Calmer and more charming than ever before, he managed to cheer his queen up many a time.
But the other parts of her life became totally messed up. Arriving at the drill ground, the Arythions and Borathions had gathered and were more numerous than ever before.
Serkon stepped up with gleeful Echion and Phineas closely behind him, telling her that the Council of Nobles had decided to take away her right to teach the warriors.
It was yet another throwback because it meant that they wouldn’t have the means to buy their food so they would have to gather it themselves. Equally, the kings had stripped her of the right to participate in the council’s meetings.
“But I still have the right to train here myself.” She would insist on strengthening her future creator heiress by exercise.
But this meant more loneliness after all. As Iasion told her in secret after she had taken him aside, the Borathions were forbidden to communicate with her too much although he seemed to take pity on her.
However, she was sure this order wasn’t needed for the Arythions. Even Simachion avoided her grimly and the Morones didn’t dare to counter the mightier tribes. Advik was the only one who talked to her sometimes.
At least some of the others shot her pitying looks while they passed. Serkon usually ignored her until he deemed it as inevitable to speak.
In spite of that, he offered to provide her with food. Well, in fact it was more of a command. But it showed that he did worry about the baby.
She took it and shared it with Io secretly. The provider began to grow some fruits and vegetables with the help of Haimon and they went fishing almost each day. Gradually, morning sickness grabbed her every now and then and made her life even more miserable.
Would the Goddess ever provide a way out?
One afternoon at the drill ground, Penthesilea decided to flee the men that used to be her students but now appeared to have become dumb overnight. Another person slipped into the narrow room behind her.
Protego hadn’t sought her out in weeks and seeing him now sent shivers down her neck. He appeared downright devastated. The dark circles around his eyes stood out all the more because his face was pale from exhaustion.
“You look terrible,” Penthesilea stated as a matter-of-fact.
“Haven’t found much sleep lately.” Had Zeuxippe called for him too often? The Amazon knew it was the other woman’s right and she undoubtedly had more important problems in the moment than a slave carrying out his duty for his mistress.
Insecurely, he pointed at the bathtub. “May I take a seat?” Was he avoiding an answer or didn't he feel well? Maybe it was just an illness.
“Yes. Now, why?” Placing his arms on his knees, he leaned on them.
“I’m caught right in between the fronts. While I betray my queen you got more enemies than ever before and more powerful ones.”
Noticing his mistake, he stopped abruptly and cast down his eyes. “I- I’m sorry. I mustn’t say things like that.”
“That’s right, you mustn’t. It’s true, anyway. But there is no way out for you.”
“Everything I do will only get me deeper into it. Hardly sleep in the night, work all day. Worry. Try not to arouse suspicion. Return my queen’s advances. Sneak away. Worry even more. I can’t bear this any longer.” Staring into space, he uttered the last words without emotion.
“Nonetheless, you have no choice. When you actually had you threw it away and got involved with me. It’s not that you didn’t know about what consequences that might have one day up to the point of death.”
She noticed the hurt in his eyes but becoming emotional wouldn’t make the situation any better. Wasn't that the reason why she had started meeting him in the first place? Now she couldn't be so sure any more that he would keep his silence.
Protego closed his eyes in resignation. “I- know. It’s only that I’m being paralyzed by fear right now.”
Penthesilea frowned. “Fear?”
“As I’m but a mere slave I’m probably supposed to tremble in fear of my queen.” He quickly corrected himself. “Of all queens,” For a moment, they fell silent.
“So, slave, what will you do now?” Sighing, he avoided her eyes.
“Don’t know. Zeuxippe’s rather ill-humored and observant today. Probably I should return to her before she’s got a wish and notices that I’m not around.”
“And you think I will let you?”
“I can only hope so.”
Sometimes, it was strange what her body demanded although her reason told her otherwise. “Not without a single kiss.” He sighed again, knowing this was inevitable. But this time his touch felt strange and left a sour taste at her lips.
With Protego gone, Penthesilea looked down at the bath tub and decided not to have a bath there. There was still a bitterness looming over where the slave had sit. She would do this at home, thinking about potential ways that might lead out of that predicament. And maybe with Haimon attending to her to fight away the dark veil that had covered her mood.
But she wasn’t done yet. Washing off the weird feeling from her hands, Serkon appeared behind her, a bitter smile on his face.
“Which business do you have with that slave? You stayed in here for quite long.”
The arrogating question alone annoyed her already.
“Have you ever heard of morning sickness, my dear? That may befall women when they’re with child and queens aren’t spared either. Not pleasant at all, believe me. And it takes a lot of time to overcome it.”
Her plan worked out, Serkon felt uncomfortable with the subject and tried to change it.
“And what about the slave?” She turned to face him.
“Well, he’s Zeuxippe’s one and I’m pretty sure she has commanded him to have an eye on me as he follows me often.”
“She is right not to trust you,” he remarked and left in an instant. Penthesilea didn’t feel all too bad to lie to him. The truth would have hurt him much more.
What she really worried about was that, without thinking much, she had covered for Protego. Though to be true, her plan to get rid of him would have been nearly impossible to conduct right now that everyone distrusted her.
Poses by MrsRacooney
This chapter has extra screenshots in the gallery